Jessie Kawata isn’t a scientist. She doesn’t know how to calculate the thrust of an engine when it reaches Earth’s upper atmosphere or the trajectory of a rocket in orbit. Kawata is a product designer by trade, who just happened to spend the last six years at NASA helping a team of rocket scientists conceptualize missions to outer space.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) first brought Kawata on as a graphic designer, but she soon found herself embedded in the organization’s Mission Formulation group, where she was tasked with introducing design thinking to some of JPL’s most hard-nosed scientists.
At the Eye on Design conference, Kawata revealed how she pushed NASA to think of designers as more than people who can “make pretty things.” She explained how storytelling is an integral part of understanding science, and how designers can provide a new lens for solving some of the world’s hardest problems—even rocket science.